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Sitting around a square table in the library at Roanoke’s William Fleming High School, Senator Warner led a great discussion with 50 regional educators, business leaders, and elected officials about how the private sector can help support vital public education initiatives.

Due to state and local budget cuts, public education has been one of the hardest hit areas since the recession began. Senator Warner wanted to brainstorm for ideas about how to encourage more support for public-private education partnerships and other ideas for increasing student access to higher education.

When Senator Warner served as Virginia Governor, he viewed the state’s two-year community college network as the “workhorse” of higher education and launched a series of initiatives that achieved some remarkable results:

  • The Warner Administration launched an initiative that paid for a semester at a Virginia community college or other state-approved training provider if a high school senior was on track toward a career that required training and certification.
  • The Warner Administration created a regional Career Readiness Certificate, which informs all employers that the Certificate holder has reached an employer-recognized level of workforce literacy. Basic skills included reading, math, writing, and locating information – “real world” skills.

At today's discussion, Billy Cannaday, a former state school superintendent and the dean of graduate and professional studies at the University of Virginia, served as moderator and posed the following question to get the conversation started: “In these economic times, it’s easy to say what you want to cut,” he said, “But what should we invest in to continue adding value to the students, the communities they live, and the businesses where they can work.”

The recommendations included increasing a students’ access to community colleges through partnerships with local foundations and businesses, and encouraging students to pursue technical degrees when a four-year college degree is not necessarily the best option for them.

One model that was discussed was Roanoke’s Community College Action Program (CCAP), a public-private partnership that offers high school students free tuition for up to two years at Virginia Western Community College.

Kay Strickland, the executive director of Virginia Western Education Foundation, summarized why programs like CCAP are vital to a community’s education system:

“We knew that if we wanted to attract businesses we have to have a qualified, trained workforce. CCAP gives that student who doesn’t have a four-year degree but does want a job [a chance] to get the training he needs to work.”

The primary recommendation from educators and business leaders was a tax credit that would encourage the private sector to get more involved in public-private education partnerships.

WSLS/Ch. 10 attended the meeting, and produced this report: